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Wildfire burning near Kwethluk up to 4,000 acres

Published: Apr. 17, 2022 at 4:35 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 18, 2022 at 9:41 PM AKDT
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BETHEL, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Division of Forestry reports that a wildfire is burning in Southwest Alaska, which as of Monday evening was up to about 4,000 acres.

According to a post from the division, commercial aircraft spotted the fire on Saturday. Alaska Division of Forestry specialist Matt Snyder departed from Palmer to examine the fire Saturday afternoon. The fire was confirmed by Federal Aviation Administration cameras in Bethel, Napakiak and Kwethluk. The initial report by the division estimated the size of the fire at 650 acres.

As of Monday evening, the wildfire had grown to just over 4,000 acres, according to an update from the agency. Division of Forestry spokesperson Tim Mowry said on Sunday that no structures or properties were at risk.

“The fire is of unknown origin, is located in a Limited area, and has been burning into natural barriers within 3-5 miles of native allotments and other known sites,” Monday’s post from the division on Facebook read. “... There are no threats to allotments, cabins or other infrastructure at this time.”

The fire was reported to be burning near the hub city of Bethel, approximately 25 miles south southeast of the nearby village of Kwethluk.

According to observations from firefighter Matt Snyder, who manned the surveillance flights Saturday and Sunday, three-quarters of the fire edge is traveling northwest with wind coming from the southeast.

“The heel of the fire was held up by a natural barrier with active fire in grass on the west and east flanks,” Snyder said. “The head was held up on a natural barrier, but the fire had crossed into receptive fuels in one location.”

Snyder also reported that he did not witness any activity on Remote Automated Weather Sites on Sunday. According to the post, the Kwethluk Fish Weir and two Native allotments are the values at risk but the fire is not expected to endanger villages or lives, and is predicted to grow until it hits a natural barrier of ice and snow.

For now, the fire is being monitored in an area that is considered a limited protection area, so crews do aerial surveillance to get an idea of the acreage growth. So far, three surveillance flights have been conducted to map the fire.

Burn permits are required across Alaska between April 1 and Aug. 31.

According to Kale Casey, information officer for the Division of Forestry, Alaska has already had 12 fires this year. However, this wildfire is the largest of the season so far in the state. He said that tundra fires in April are not uncommon.

“This time of year we start having two to three mistake fires a day because these brown, dead grasses are extremely ready to burn,” Casey said. “They’re the fastest to dry out, and everyday right now, I mean the sun’s rising just after 7, sunset after 9 — that’s a lot of time out there in the tundra to warm it up.”

The division said another surveillance flight will take place this week and firefighting crews will keep an eye on the burn via Federal Aviation Administration cameras placed in Kwethluk, Bethel and Napakiak.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

Correction: This article has updated to correct the distance of the fire from the village of Kwethluk.

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